A Johns Hopkins Course Features the Work of…

UD‘s late friend, Paul Laffoley. I’m happy Paul’s work is showing up in the art curriculum. But it’s never been my thing.

Birth of the Afghan Neo-Impressionist Movement

A remarkably rich, all-female, artistic ferment is on view right now in Kabul galleries, where women painters from all over the country are putting on canvas their perspectives on the world. One group show in particular – Fade to Black – is attracting global attention and acclaim.

“It’s long past time the world heard the voices of Afghan women,” commented Sotheby’s contemporary art specialist Franchetta Settembrini. “Until now, we’ve known little of the specific outlook and experiences of this hidden population. Now they’ve emerged, to tell their story on museum walls, and I’ve found it exhilarating.”

“The movement reminds me of the famous ape artist in the Jardin des Plantes,” she continued. “Vladimir Nabokov was inspired by the ape’s story, and talked about it in an interview about Lolita.” ([“I was] prompted by a newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: the sketch showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage.”)

Settembrini announced a forthcoming catalogue (BACK TO BLACK: STUDIES IN MESH) featuring the most prominent of Kabul’s neo-impressionists. “Few lay on total cave darkness as masterfully as X,” Settembrini remarked. “X has the technique, vision, and sheer physical strength to place layer after ‘noir’ layer on the canvas.”

X? “Oh, they’re all X. Wouldn’t want to get beheaded, would we?”

Bidding for a single X Series painting will begin at $500,000.

The surrealistic fires of Laguna Nigel…

… make UD think of Kitaj’s If Not, Not:

Horror among the palms. Among the blue skies and blue ponds and pools of a languid landscape. As in D.M. Thomas’ novel The White Hotel, or the book/film The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, the effort is to convey the world as both a highly evolved beautiful secure retreat, and a far-too-delicate entity subject to sudden lurid conflagration. Foreground, on-goingness. Background, the vile, all-arresting catastrophe.

Russian Exhibit, 59th Venice Biennale 2022

This massive international art exhibit has opened with surrealistic performance art from Russia: Sergey Lavrov gave an “absurd” interview on Italian television, in which he called Hitler a Jew.

In response, the Hemingway estate has agreed to excise all references to, and depictions of, fishing in the …



More footage.

Beethoven’s Exhausted Second Movement Gets Yet Another Workout.

In a remarkable ten-minute propaganda clip, Eric Zemmour chooses the Seventh for his presidential announcement. Given the SUPER-chauvinistic, SUPER-French nature of his announcement, it’s head-scratching that he chooses a German composer for his soundtrack, non?

I mean, yes, the heavy-meaning-bearing second movement gets trotted out constantly — background music for The King’s Speech, background music for the end of the world — but what’s it doing in a hyper-nationalistic French politician’s presidential statement?

Obviously the haunting major/minor of this movement conveys seriousness and sorrow, gravity and dignity. It is both foreboding and, in its tenacious maintenance of its waltz-like tempo, somehow resolute. And since Zemmour’s whole thing is that France is dying – practically dead – it makes sense that this anxious sorrowing resoluteness would appeal to him. Joshua Bell comments:

I’d call the second movement the ultimate expression of despair, … especially as it reaches its peak. It’s the ultimate crying of lament. The slow movement even ends with an unresolved chord with no root, just as it begins. It leaves you feeling a kind of longing right from the beginning and it leaves you with that same feeling as it ends with an unstable chord.

Yet Beethoven is so un-French; Zemmour spends the entire ten minutes trumpeting the unique brilliance of French culture, and can’t come up with a French composer whose work adequately conveys his message?

It is not too late for the Zemmour campaign to align its values with its soundtrack. With no trouble at all, UD has come up with an equally famous and celebrated French composition that conveys, as does Beethoven’s, growing anxiety/intensity in the context of a beautiful melody. A piece that “has a pulsation that … is very close to that of, you know, the heartbeat. And … it grows in that sort of inevitable manner – something that, you know, cannot be stopped. It sort of unfolds and sweeps you away with it.”

Yes. Ravel’s Bolero.


PS: To render Zemmour’s entire announcement totally French, we’d also need to remove his reference to Johnny Hallyday (half Belgian), and have him quote from someone other than Abraham Lincoln (“by the people,” etc.).

It’s not ME. It’s the WORLD that’s sick.

“While his actions were dishonest and criminal in nature, he’s part of an industry sick from top to bottom where this sort of behavior is sadly commonplace.”


Almost all art dealers commit 86 million dollars worth of fraud and then flee to Vanatu. Vanatu has become a second home for multimillionaire art market fraudsters.

Oh. Okay.

“I would expect that [there will] be increased measures to make sure concertgoers can have a great time, but do so without getting killed.”

‘… Abu Taif, or the father of the Taif Agreement, told me at his home in Beirut that implementing [this reform] would mean “their role will end.” Every Lebanese knows whom he means: the half dozen or so men who have called the shots in Lebanon since the end of the civil conflict. “I named them the company of five,” el-Husseini said. ”A bunch of thieves, a company of five that has ruined us.”‘

What does a country destroyed by the debauched greed of five men still produce?

Fantastic photographs. Even their captions can be versified (scroll down).

A baker in Beirut by candlelight.

Beiruti bathed in gossamer at night.

Tonsured by a barber without sight.

Bluewash through the darkened urban blight.

In honor of all the excitement in France today about the Celine manuscripts…

here’s an excerpt from Journey to the End of the Night.

“It so happened that just to one side of my bench there was a big hole in the sidewalk, something like the Métro at home. That hole seemed propitious, so vast, with a stairway all of pink marble inside it. I’d seen quite a few people from the street disappear into it and come out again. It was in that underground vault that they answered the call of nature. I caught on right away. The hall where the business was done was likewise of marble. A kind of swimming pool, but drained of all its water, a fetid swimming pool, filled only with filtered, moribund light, which fell on the forms of unbuttoned men surrounded by their smells, red in the face from the effect of expelling their stinking feces with barbarous noises in front of everybody.

Men among men, all free and easy, they laughed and joked and cheered one another on, it made me think of a football game. The first thing you did when you got there was to take off your jacket, as if in preparation for strenuous exercise. This was a rite and shirtsleeves were the uniform.

In that state of undress, belching and worse, gesticulating like lunatics, they settled down in the fecal grotto. The new arrivals were assailed with a thousand revolting jokes while descending the stairs from the street, but they all seemed delighted.

The morose aloofness of the men on the street above was equated only by the air of liberation and rejoicing that came over them at the prospect of emptying their bowels in tumultuous company.

The splotched and spotted doors to the cabins hung loose, wrenched from their hinges. Some customers went from one cell to another for a little chat, those waiting for an empty seat smoked heavy cigars and slapped the backs of the obstinately toiling occupants, who sat there straining with their heads between their hands. Some groaned like wounded men or women in labor. The constipated were threatened with ingenious tortures.

When a gush of water announced a vacancy, the clamor around the free compartment redoubled, and as often as not a coin would be tossed for its possession. No sooner read, newspapers, though as thick as pillows, were dismembered by the horde of rectal toilers. The smoke made it hard to distinguish faces, and the smells deterred me from going too close.”

The Dubai Expo and the Need for Genital Hijabs

I come to praise Michelangelo’s David, not bury him.

Rather than submerging his naughty bits in a… shaft, Dubai should apply its local modesty icon- the hijab – to his middle section.

Abdulrazak Gurnah wins the literature …


I simply arrived at a certain age and thought to myself that this was something I’d like to do, as for example going to England with the difficulties of being of that age and moving from one place to another. Being a stranger, living through the difficulties of finding my way, having kind of abandoned home, things like that influenced me. I’m not like Virginia Woolf, who knew at the age of ten she wanted to be a writer. I just found myself writing things down one day, as people usually do, and found new pages that built up on these ideas and then came to the point at which I thought: What is this? What am I doing with this? And there you reach the difference between writing things down and writing.

These days, UD is a huge fan fan.

Licentiousness Squared

So the biographer of bad boy P. Roth is himself a bad boy! How far down does this go? Is the book’s editor a bad boy? Typesetter?

Meh. Aside from mucho giggles at age sixteen when my parents brought Portnoy into the house, UD, who taught Roth’s short stories for years, hasn’t benefited all that much from plenty of Roth reading. She fails to detect any literary style in the guy, for starters… Actually, wait, I have another vivid and very positive Roth memory. It’s pouring down rain one Chicago afternoon, and I’m waiting in his car for my boyfriend to pick up something at the Newberry Library. I’m listening to a tape he has playing of Philip Roth reading from one of his works – and it’s absolutely hilarious. Roth’s delivery is hilarious. I’m laughing like a madwoman; and when my boyfriend comes back to the car I make him wait to drive off until I’ve heard the whole thing.

But anyway my problem with Roth never had to do with his characters’ malsain morality; it involved a sense that while the short stories were sharp and moody and wise, the novels were… the novel was not his form. Even Portnoy feels too long; and even his short novels (Everyman, for instance) dully drag. Propped up in their early days by libido, his later novels just lie there.

All of this, I suppose, reflects Roth’s classic bad-boy declension through life (cad-icity; flaccidity; acidity), which left him all bittered up with nowhere to go. Maybe he chose another bad boy to write his bio because he figured a guy like that could summon the ghost of the cocksman. Didn’t work.

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